The Australian table grape industry has made leaps and bounds since 2011 with farm gate value rising 90% by the 2015-16 season, but the sector cannot afford to take these gains for granted. In its recently published Table Grape Strategic Investment Plan (SIP), Horticulture Innovation Australia has put forward a raft of measures and considerations to ensure future prosperity.
"To ensure the future prosperity of table grape producers, it will be critically important to at least maintain, if not increase, domestic and export market demand," the report said.
This is easier said than done however, with per capita consumption rates that are already quite high, improved quality from competing countries in overseas markets that puts the "premium" tag on Aussie grapes under threat, and challenges with new varieties.
"Most of the major varieties, both public and proprietary, are grown in Sunraysia. Strong export opportunities have been driving the shift to Crimson Seedless and expansion of plantings is expected through this variety.
Hort Innovation highlights how growers are always in search of new varieties, but small growers in the earlier growing regions of Queensland have been "challenged in successfully growing some proprietary varieties and need better training from commercial breeders".
"Early-season grapes, not well suited to current export markets, are predominantly grown in Queensland and Western Australia (varieties include Menindee Seedless, Flame Seedless and Dawn Seedless)," the report said.
In addition, these early season growers are also affected by late season U.S. grape imports which have become an "increasing concern".
"Australia is a significant importer from the Unites States from June to December. Although import volumes have not grown significantly, a prolonged American grape season into December in recent years has placed imports in direct competition with Australian product," the report said.
"There are efforts among retail chains to prioritise domestic fruit over imported but this practice is inconsistent.
"Displays of American fruit are sometimes mislabelled as Australian, and the quality of American end-of-season fruit has not been ideal."
Addressing consumer perceptions about early season fruit quality will be just one small part of the proposed AUD$11.31 million investment plan that also includes training for retail chains to improve handling and displays, annual reports and trade missions, a database on chemical requirements for markets and continued efforts to improve protocols.
"An independent assessment of the potential economic impacts from investment into the table grape SIP indicated a positive return on investment for the industry," the report said.
"The anticipated investment of $11.31 million over the next five years in R&D, extension and marketing activities is expected to generate $92.50 million in net benefits for the industry, representing a benefit cost ratio of 8.18 times to growers and service providers along the value chain."
To view the full report click here.